tv [untitled] February 24, 2012 11:00pm-11:30pm EST
death of absalom. it boggles my mind that no historian has ever followed up on this particular reference. it refers to king david whose kingdom is divided north and south. it's in the second book of sam. his favorite son is leading revolution against him. of course, you he wants the revolution put down, but he wants absalon to be spared. in one of those sort of strange stories of the bible, he is on his horse, and he is running beneath a tree, and he gets his hair tangled in the low-lying branches of the tree, and he can only dangle helplessly as the opposing general plunges spears into his chest. the word goes back to the -- through the kingdom that the rebellion has been broken, but david keeps asking, what about absilon? finally, somebody tells him, and he breaks down crying. what to god, if i had died for thee, absilon, my son, my son. abraham lincoln knew some books perfectly well. he would not have made this reference lightly without weighing it in every particular. what's more interesting perhaps is the aftermath of this story,
emily who had been in atlanta. many of the confederate dead are buried in atlanta. she had been there and now needs to get back home in kentucky. to be some consolation to her mother and to stop being a burden on her relatives. she has three children, one a babe in arms. she secures a pass from lincoln to return to kentucky, but she stopped at fortress monroe where she is asked to take the oath of allegiance which she feels she just can't do. so if you can imagine, these guards are in a bind. they have a pass from the commander in chief to allow emily to go through, but they have an order that no one goes through without taking an oath of allegiance to the federal government. in a bind they don't know what to do. emily suggests why don't you telegraph abraham lincoln. they do. he sends back four words -- send her to me. so in december of 1863 and here's how you kind of have to translate it. this would be michelle obama's brothers are fighting for al qaeda.
and one of their widows gets to stay in the prince of wales room for a week. if you can imagine lincoln is sticking his neck way out. not a little out. way out. for his little sister. if we can believe emily's diary, the sisters were a real comfort to each other when she got there. mr. lincoln and my sister met me with the warmest affection. we were all too grief stricken for speech. we could only embrace each another in silence and tears. over the next week the sisters gave each other what comfort they could. they circled around the subjects that came the most. we talk of old friends, and we talk of immaterial things. we cannot open our hearts to each other, but though our tongues are tied, we weep over our dead together and express through our class tans the sympathy we feel for each other and our mutual grief. i don't think it can be considered insignificant that in december of 1863 abraham lincoln
is working on his proclamation of amnesty and reconstruction, and one of the first people that he pardons with his new presidential power is his little sister, emily todd. so what impact did all of the todds have? all of these scandals, all of these affections on abraham lincoln generally and on his experience and interpretation of the war specifically? first i think it's important to note that even without the todds, lincoln would have understood in family terms. what did he really see of the war? he didn't really know the war the soldiers knew. they didn't have a lot of military experience themselves. he had been in the black hawk war with mosquitoes, he said, were the biggest problem. he reviewed his soldiers. he saw them in hospital. he doesn't know the war that his generals know. but he knows a war they don't. he saw not the dead men, but their kin. the ones with the gaping holes
in her lives, not their bodies. widows and orphans, mothers, fathers, and sisters all sobbed their daily way to the white house and begged lincoln to minister to their miseries and minister he did. some of my generals complain that i have frequent pardons and reprieves, he said one deserves, but it rests me after a hard day's work that i can find some excuse for saving some poor fellow's life, and i shall go to bed happy tonight as i think how joyous the signing of this name will make himself, his family, and friends. now, lincoln's commutations are legendary, but for each one of them you can find a dozen quieter adjustments that the president of the united states is himself overseeing, transferring brothers so they can be in the same regiment, furlowing them so they can tend to the family business. he gave one soldier orthopedic boots because a sister came and said her brother would be a permanent cripple if he didn't have these boots.
this is a president that is decidedly feeling these people's pain. so lincoln may have been a long way from a physical horrors of the battlefield, but the emotional toll of the war literally came home to him almost every day. as a result, he saw a war the generals didn't. it was not a sequence of battles, but a vast mosaic of family crises. if the war was literally a family affair for lincoln and also one figuratively, all the men in that age, right, the language that they use referring to founding fathers, sister states, slaveholders were our southern brethren, lincoln uses this language too. the united states is the home of one national family, he reminds congress in 1862. we are all of the same family, the same sort, he said, of northerners and southerners in 1863. the rebellion is this unhappy fraternal war. i think where you most see
lincoln's affection for this familial metaphor and what he is meeting, this is a constitutional crisis. he is not reading the federalist paper. there's a military paper. why do witnesses say he always has his nose in? if you tarry too long next to him, you're going to get an earful of it too. it's shakespeare. lincoln had three particular favorites -- richard iii, hamlet, and as he put it, above all, macbeth. all three are tragedies. richard iii is classed as a history. it fits the tragic mold. all three are set in grieving war-torn countries. hamlet's denmark is contracted in one brow of woe. richard's england has long been mad and scarred herself. macbeth's scotland is the downfall where each new morning new widows howell, new orphans cry, and nor sorrow strikes heaven.
in all three stories, the countries' wounds are self-inflicted. a division in the ruling family has touched off a civil war. now, why would lincoln who lived such miseries want to read about them? because sometimes misery must be fed if it is to build and break. in his favorite plays lincoln crawled into a world where houses fall, families divide, and countries bleed in language so beautiful, it has to be true. shakespeare reflected back his own feelings and allowed him to feel the pain he already felt more intensely and, thus, more cathartically. let us seek out some desolate shade the bard beckoned, and there will be our sad bosoms empty. so i think lincoln was preconditioned to see the war through the lens of family drama, and that's why i think it genuinely broke his heart when in late 1864 emily wrote him a bitter letter severing their relations forever.
she had gotten back to kentucky, another brother had died. her mother was a wreck. kentucky was in turmoil. what could she do but lay all the blame at lincoln's door? her letter concludes, "i would remind you that your mini-bullets have made us what we are. if you think i give way to excess of feeling, i beg you will make some excuse for a woman almost crazed with misfortune." now, i often think about abraham lincoln getting this letter from his little sister. your mini-bullets have made us what we are. were they his mini-bullets? had he caused a war? did he feel guilty, responsible for so much death and destruction? so far as we know, abraham lincoln never answered this letter. but i think in a way he did when he delivered his second inaugural address a few months later. for 250 years, lincoln said, this country has enriched itself and debased itself by enslaving, brutalizing, and raping other
human beings. northerners and southerners had profited by slavery and acquiesced in slavery until finally god himself had come down to remove it. i tremble for my country, jefferson had said, when i reflect that god is just, that his justice will not sleep forever. finally, comes reckoning. god's justice had awoken, and he intended to mete it out old-testament style. fortune was to be repaid by misfortune. all deaths wereton to be sung in blood. thus, they were not lincoln's mini bullets. northerners had not killed southerners or vice versa. god had killed them all and for good reason. the nation's attitude should be that of any other sinner and god was chacen, and it should submit, and then move more humbly forward. with mouth -- with all the firmness in the right as god
gives us to see the right, let us drive on to finish the work we are in to bind up a nation's wounds, to care for him, who shall born the battle, and for his widow and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. lincoln is talking here about his own family. two todd brothers had been killed in the war. one todd sister had lost her husband. there were two widows and six orphans in the todd family alone. he is also addressing a nation of todds. united by blood and divided by bloodshed. well, in conclusion, i would like to suggest that there is a lesson here about ourselves as a national family. as american we are not a family in the sense that we all love each other. looking at the political rhetoric we've used for decades, we clearly don't. rather, we are a family in the same way as the todds. we implicate each other. we can't escape each other. we share a name, americans, and we share a destiny.
so whatever we're going face in the coming years, we need to face it together. if you want to change the world, change the metaphor. we could do worse and employ the metaphor lincoln preferred. we are, like it or not, one family. we will rise or fall, sink or swim together. thank you. [ applause ] >> professor berry reminds us that history can be both informative and entertaining at the same time. it's wonderful that there is that entertaining part of it. we have time for just a couple of questions, so if you will come to the mike.
>> professor, i noticed that emily lived until 1930. is there any evidence that she mellowed in her opinion of her brother-in-law? >> yeah, and i'm so glad that i got that question because your mini bulletin made us what we are. she's crazed with misfortune in late 1864. she learns that abraham lincoln has been assassinated. she immediately sends a telegraph to robert, do you need me to come? and this is the thing about family that we all know but we somehow don't allow for those in the past that it is a many layered thing. robert todd lincoln and emily were enormously close. she visited hildeen. they were the survivors. if you think about it, robert todd lincoln outlasts his brother, mother, father by years and year. emily outlasts all of the todds, and so they are the survivors together and were enormously close, and it's her daughter who writes the first biography of
mary todd lincoln, and it's a very kind biography, so, yeah, this is of a moment that she feels this, but, you know, underneath these resentments and these political disagreements there's affection buried still. >> joseph holt, judge advocate general, had the same problem with his family. he started out as a slave owner, and he split off and became a union man, anti-slavery as well, and his family was not happy with him, and he tried to reconcile with it afterward. he did with thome them. not all of them would. the other rumor i have is a letter from them, george who served with alex todd. in this he is writing to helm and saying that todd had been killed and he shows in a map where todd is buried. so the family can claim him if they wish to afterward.
did they? >> they did try to find him, and the record is unclear. there are men who sort of fleeced and made a business of trying to say that they knew where confederate dead were, and emily wasn't sure the degree to which she was being played. i'm not completely sure exactly where his body was. this letter would help. so they looked for him. whether they ever found him, i'm not sure. helm, they did reclaim from the atlanta graveyard and moved him to kentucky. >> was david todd ever brought to justice because of the prison problem? >> no. no. as you all know, senate opens an investigation, i mean, once andersonville becomes public
information almost immediately, one of the first investigations is treatment of union prisoners in confederate hands and there you will find david todd's name often. and what's most interesting about him is, this is very early in the war, where you cannot make claims, as spirited as they might be, that it's a failure of logistics. they don't have enough food, they don't have enough water, they're overcrowded. that's not the case in richmond. so he's deeply implicated in those reports but never brought to justice. >> was it abraham lincoln himself who observed that god seemed to be satisfied with the one "d" but the todd family felt they had to have two? >> yes. i have a very long footnote on that in the book. and it's very clear that this joke was around. and if you know lincoln, he's a wholesaler and a retailer of funny material. so he will go to work on things
that have been floating around and then his version is just the funniest. so he definitely used it. but whether he originated it, that i couldn't prove. >> this will be our last question. >> the people in springfield say we still remember mrs. lincoln very fondly here. i wonder, did the country ever mellow towards her, either after lincoln's death or even after hers, did they realize the extent of the loneliness, the wandering? >> right. i'm very glad that i get this question. the best one-sentence biography that's been written on mary lincoln was written by her sister, elizabeth, who said, she's had a lot to deal with and she hasn't dealt with it very well. and i think if we all started there it would help. mary lincoln has three reasons to get up in the morning -- her boys, her husband, and her advancement. her ascent to the presidency. well, three of her boys die
early, one commits her to an insane asylum, her husband is murdered while she's holding his hand, and she becomes the scapegoat of the entire war. that's a lot to deal with. and she didn't deal with it very well. and it's such a study in contrast, the degree to which the nation refuses to even pity her. she becomes this diva of grief, she seems histrionic, they can't find a place in their heart despite all of those things that have happened. and the contrast to emily, who goes on to be for 70 years the widow of benjamin hardin helm, that's what she does. that's her profession. she's a professional widow, and she does it immaculately. she does it to adoration. and, yeah, i think if we started with the position that maybe she didn't deal with it very well but she had a whole lot to deal with we would be a little more .
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arguments and the factual arguments and the evidence-based arguments behind our own views. and i do think that sometimes, you know, when the facts don't argue for our position we reexamine those positions because, you know, we fundamentally believe the most important thing is to be right about what your views are. >> a look at the center for american progress, sunday night at 8:00 eastern and pacific on c-span's q&a. there are millions of decent americans who are willing to sacrifice for change, but they want to do it without being threatened and they want to do it peacefully. they are the nonviolent majority, black and white, who are for change without violence. these are the people whose voice i want to be. >> as candidates campaign for president this year, we look back at 14 men who ran for the office and lost. go to our web site c-span.org/the contenders to see video of the contenders who had
a lasting impact on american politics. >> can you remember in the depression those of you who are my age when times were really hard and we left the doors unlocked? now we have the most violent crime-ridden society in the industri industrialized world. now, i can can't live with that. can you live with that? >> c-span.org/the contenders. when president lincoln was shot on april 14, 1865, he was wearing a black great coat made especially for his second inaugural by brooks brothers. the coat is cared for by the national park service and periodically displayed in the ford's theater museum lobby. "american history tv" documented the process of removing a replica coat and placing the original coat on display for the public and learned how the artifact is preserved for future generations.
and we have it on display in february through the summer. so we put it up right around the time of lincoln's birthday, which is this saturday, the 12th, and then we have it up during our busiest season, the spring season. that's also the time of april when the assassination anniversary comes around, the cherry blossom festival. so it's the busiest season of the year, then it stays through the summer. it stays just about six months and then we put it back into protective storage. >> when the great coat of abraham lincoln is not on exhibit at the ford's theater, it's housed here. the coat is fragile so it only goes on exhibit for a stretch of time. it goes six month on exhibit, six month off exhibit, so it essentially can rest and the resting place for the coat when it's relaxing is here at the national park museum resource center.
so we have got a specially made box for the coat it can be in rest here. so the fabrics can relax and we can -- the coat can be preserved longer. much of the ford's theater collection comes from a private collector by the name of olerude. and there's a variety of collectors associated with him and his collection of the objects associated with the assassination of lincoln. this is a violin purportedly played at ford's theater during the play "my american cousin." in a sealed case and it actually has a humidifier control in the case itself so it's an environment within the environment. even though the facility itself has constant environmental controls, this is an environment within the environment. >> so i see one that says presidential box flag, the funeral train? you don't necessarily have to
open, but i just wonder, these are all from that one person's collection? >> right. we store all of our material in what are called acid-free boxes, these are ph-balanced paper. we buy them in a company in fredericksburg, virginia. you take off the box lid and inside you'll see an inventory of the objects that are in this box and you'll see that the artifacts have been individually wrapped in very stable material. this is the -- the white is a tissue paper, an inert paper, and you have a plastic bubble-type wrap to preserve and protect the object. this is the acronym for ford's theater, foth, and this is the catalog number. so a researcher if they were looking for a particular type of object, we can search through the catalog number or for the object name in the database. these are all -- this -- these sets of tiers are associated with ford's theater. the vast majority of material is
on exhibit at the ford's theater in the basement. we have a large exhibit hall there. we also have a number of loans that are out right now. we have a loan in st. petersburg at the hermitage in russia with material from the ford's theater associated with a czar who -- the linkage is that this czar is the czar that freed the serfs roughly the same time as lincoln freed the slaves, so the russians wanted to create an exhibit that linked lincoln to their czar. >> so the great coat itself is in this larger box. however, the condition the coat is in right now, the left sleeve is detached from it, and so the smaller box holds that sleeve. soon after the assassination you
had relic hunters and souvenir hunters who immediately wanted pieces of it. people immediately were trying to cut off tiny pieces of it. its owner alfonzo dunn was cutting off pieces himself and giving them to people so when the park service received it in 1968 it was already in unfortunately very, very delicate condition. so we've found this approach helps so we can preserve it. that's our priority, preserve it for the present and future generations. at the same time, we do want to make sure that people actually get to see it and enjoy it. by having it up during the spring we've made sure that the maximum amount of people can do that. >> what we're doing now is checking for any particulates and we're removing the particulates before we install the case. >> what do you mean by particulates?
>> dust. >> so what we see there is our hvac system. this is what helps maintain proper humidity, temperature levels and so this is self-contained in the display unit itself. our first step is to remove the replica item. so you can see that when the original great coat is not in the case, we do have a replica coat, replica boots, replica top hat. and we do not have the original boots or the original hat. what we are putting in there today is the great coat itself. that is the most important item. here you can see we are preparing the case. >> kimberly? >> yes, ma'am. >> take one of these and go along the edges here.
>> we're making sure that the case has no particulates. >> i think we've already done it that way. where did that guy go? >> that goes in first and then this mount attaches to it. >> okay. all right. >> now you can see we are placing the mount inside of the display case. it is a specially built mount. and, considering its condi